First Airbus A380 parked amid search for new operator

SINGAPORE/PARIS (Reuters) - The first Airbus AIR.PA A380 superjumbo to fly passengers almost a decade ago has been taken out of service by Singapore Airlines SIAL.SI, highlighting a debate over the future of the world's largest airliners.

An Airbus A380-841 airplane of Singapore Airlines takes-off from Zurich airport, Switzerland, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Singapore Airlines has already said it plans to hand back its first A380 to a German leasing company rather than extend its 10-year lease.

The move focused attention on slack demand for the 544-seat double-decker and raised the prospect that some could be headed for the breakup yard, casting a pall over celebrations to mark the airliner’s 10 years of service in October.

Confirming a report in, Singapore Airlines said it had parked the aircraft ahead of the transfer back to its owner. Its last commercial flight was to London in June.

“It is correct that the aircraft has been removed from service ahead of its return to the lessor in October,” a spokesperson for the airline said by email.

“We are not in a position to comment on what is planned for the aircraft after it is returned to the lessor.”

The owner of the aircraft, Dortmund-based Dr Peters Group, and Airbus both declined to comment on the move.

The German owner says it is in talks with several entities who may be interested in the first aircraft, one of four due to come back from Singapore Airlines up to June next year.

In total the asset manager owns nine superjumbos including five leased to Air France AIRF.PA.

These have been financed through the Kommanditgesellschaft (KG) market, a tax-efficient system best known for its appeal to high-income individuals.

Singapore Airlines continues to take delivery of new A380s which will be fitted with upgraded cabins.

But the problems in finding a new airline willing to operate the giant aircraft as they come off their initial leases have highlighted the lack so far of a fluid second-hand market.

That in turn weighs on fragile demand for new aircraft, which has twice forced Airbus to reduce production.

The race to find a new home for the first jet comes as Airbus tries to maintain confidence in the programme and negotiate deals for new jets at the Dubai Airshow in November.

While most airliners have an economic life of 25 years and are built to last even longer, the first A380 faces an uncertain future less than 10 years after it went into service in 2007, marking what European leaders hailed as a new era in air travel.

If Dr Peters cannot find a new operator, it is widely expected to break up the first one or two aircraft for parts.

Airbus insists the A380 does have a future due to congestion and predicts 5 percent of aircraft delivered over the next 20 years will be in the same category.

U.S. rival Boeing BA.N disagrees and stopped forecasting demand for very large four-engined airplanes such as the A380 and its own 747-8 in June.

Editing by Susan Thomas